May 13, 2008

The Day After Mother's Day

Maria Portokalos, the mother of the bride in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding said: "Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."

Not to be a whiner this morning or anything, but what a load of crap that line is. Nobody flatters a woman into subservience like power-hungry narcissists whose self-interest lies in the meaningless use of phrases restraining women's sovereignty. What really matters is not the secretive manipulation of a man's head; what matters is using her head to make decisions and letting him suffer the stiff necked-ness of his own arrogance.

Platitude: "A trite or banal remark or statement, especially one expressed as if it were original or significant."

Platitudes make platituders feel better about themselves. Platitudes do not validate the platituded, whose reality is denied with hollow flattery serving no one but the guilty. Let’s cut to the quick and call it what it is: enshrined female subordination.

In spite of my cynicism about Mother's Day, I made it through the holiday with my integrity in tact. Which is something to say considering social disaffirmation of the human being behind the title: 
Mother. You know, how special we are; how important we are; how essential mothers are to the creation of stable societies and healthy children: words, words, words and blame, blame, blame and blah, blah, blah, insert-rolling-eyes-here.

The fact is, platitudes roll off people's lips and we want to believe what we're being told though there's no substance to dishonest profusions about women's shadowy subordination. Romanticizing motherhood by suggesting we turn our husband’s head rather than demanding reciprocal respect and equal status, keeps us manipulating him without challenging his sanctimonious authority. Overvaluation of the mothering role veils inequities by asking women to believe her greatest influence is behind the scenes: with her children. Not as a powerful human being in her own right. I get sick of narcissistic effusions about a woman’s supportive role as so important she need not question (read: threaten) male privilege.

Sunday morning platitudes arrived by the truckload threatening to suffocate me even more than my Queen-Size pantyhose. In my mind, a dump truck filled with roses stifles a woman’s breath just as effectively as a truckload of rocks dumped on her head. She is buried beneath impossible expectations of selflessness or else she is publicly stoned with critical slams and insults for not embodying the ideal. Tell a woman her job is to turn his neck the right direction and maybe she won't notice who's really rocking that cradle...with boulders. As if rocking the cradle shapes the world when a woman’s hands are tied behind her back, the baby needs comforting and her husband demands she play with him or he’ll keep throwing rocks.

Mother’s Day is the platitudination of a nation senselessly promoting an impossible ideal of femininity.

Romanticized nonsense leads us down primrose paths towards barren lives when a woman's worth is determined by her children's acceptable socialization. We judge ourselves according to our relationships as the measure of our success. This robs both the mother and her children of their right to be uniquely different individuals. It also means a woman is self-critical depending upon how well the recipients of her care respond to her mothering. And if a woman is not inclined to be ‘mothering’, she is likely trying to live up to cultural ideals, destructively comparing herself to an idealized image. Which of course, is not achievable.

Basically, suggesting a woman is a Madonna simply because she gave birth to a child robs her of her personhood.

Painting women with the Madonna brush denies our individuality and alleviates our partner’s responsibility to reciprocate nurturing. I hate to shake people's favorite illusions but women are not ever-flowing vessels spewing the milk of human kindness. We have needs, too. Needs for self-expression, individuation, achievement, autonomy and freedom. Which leads me to the next point:

The Madonna image becomes even more oppressive if we are inclined towards a care-taking role. Why? Because women make a choice to nurture others. Yes. A choice. Nurturing is not an instinctive reflex like farting after a big meal.

Women make a moral choice to care for others. Suggesting we are ‘naturally’ empathic and nurturing reduces our humanity. Tell me I was a good enough mother but please, o please, don’t throw me in the briar patch of flowery platitudes with prickly stickers and bloodletting brambles. That’s how we lose our integrity when we focus on flowers and ignore the tangled web of thorny branches choking the very life out of ourselves.

For every romanticized notion I heard on Mother's Day, I thought of ten things I did contradicting the ideal. Maybe I was proving to myself that mothering was and is a conscious process of maturation, self-expression and blessed-o-so-blessed imperfection. So please don’t tell me birthing an infant made me someone special. The hard work required to break my shell of self-absorption and attune myself to my children's needs was an uncommon act of will, determination and morality--not an instinctual response negating conscious choice.

I am not a cow.

Hugs all,

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